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News Aggregators: Scam or Publishers’ Scapegoats?

News Aggregators: Scam or Publishers’ Scapegoats?

Recently GigaOm reported that Josh Marshall of the political blog network Talking Points Memo pulled his site’s feeds from both Google Currents and Flipboard. Marshall’s reasoning? In his mind, the services are “scams against publishers.”

TPM also pulled their services from our service for the same reasoning. As CEO of News360, I have a few thoughts I’d like to share on this topic.

I think that it’s not a question of whether aggregators can bring new readers – they can, and if structured well that can open up opportunities for publishers (think of it like apps  and the app store – done right and plugged into the right ecosystem, it does wonders for discovery). But aggregators, especially those who provide discovery mechanisms, need to satisfy a few key requirements to keep the publisher’s monetization model intact and the ecosystem healthy:

1. Impartiality on who gets the benefit of discovery – the challenge with feed aggregators is that they use human editors to decide who is more visible in the system when you go to add a new feed. It’s adding yet another gatekeeper. This creates a natural establishment bias where recognizable brands are featured higher than emerging or niche creators, regardless of content quality. To overcome this very issue, we started using personalization mid last year – we want to function like a search engine that recognizes quality and relevance of content that’s tailored to a specific user without relying solely on brand recognition.

2. A straightforward way to monetize as well as directly engage the audience – either traffic direct to the publisher’s site, or a way for them to advertise in the aggregator without having to sell ads themselves in the aggregator’s format. It has to be easy – having to have your own sales team to monetize the aggregator again shuts off anyone but the top-tier mainstream publishers. Same thing with the ability to subscribe and push information to the user – there has to be a layer of accessibility to the creator, since that audience drives the content and editorial directions.

I feel like the problem right now is that nobody really satisfies those two requirements – everything is still around human, brand-focused curation, and most aggregators completely shut off the publishers from the audiences. The top-tier publishers are able to get somewhat preferential treatment on the audience and maybe even sell the ads, but it’s not a sustainable model or user experience without the long tail.

That said, I still believe that pulling out from aggregators is a mistake – they can provide that awesome native, long-form reading discovery experience that you just can’t get when browsing twitter on a phone, and I feel like we’re starting to solve the monetization/discovery issues right now. There is no value in not being a part of that.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the topic in the comments section below.

 (Image via: robwinters.hubpages.com)